Al Mahatta Sharjah, highlights history of aviation in Gulf Region

SHARJAH, 25th October, 2019 — Sharjah Air Station ‘Al Mahatta Museum’ highlights the history of aviation in the UAE and the Gulf Region. The museum first opened its doors in 2000, and since then, it has been the repository of stories of the first plane to land on Sharjah, the development of Sharjah’s first airport since the 40s, and its influence on the economic, cultural and social life in the region.

The importance of ‘Al Mahatta’ as the representative of aviation history in Sharjah and UAE is undeniable. The museum features a collection of exhibits in the first airport headquarters and provides an opportunity for new generations to learn about the history of aviation in Sharjah.

The story of aviation in these parts began on 5th October, 1932, when the first plane landed at Sharjah airport at 4:00 pm. It came from Gwadar airport (now in Pakistan), on the way to Britain. The Imperial Airways aircraft, named ‘Hanno’, fueled up and left carrying passengers and mail from Sharjah, marking the first flight in the history of the country.

Since its inception, Sharjah’s first airport played a pivotal role in promoting the stature of Sharjah and the country even before the formation of the United Arab Emirates. The airport served as a strategic link between the East and the West, and as a bridge to other cultures and civilisations, offering a fast, easy and effective way to connect with other countries in the region and the world.

Sharjah’s strategic location contributed to mark a significant change in the international air routes. The Imperial Airways decided to shift their air routes from Persia and launch a new flight route through the Arabian Gulf region to their destinations in the Far East. The new route included Cairo, Basra, and Sharjah Air Station as main stopover airports.

Al Mahatta was strategically used as a link between Europe, Asia and Australia, offering effective communication channels with the Western countries in all cultural and commercial fields. The airport was also the base for military aircraft during the Second World War until the year 1971, when the last Hunters, British jet-powered fighters, left Sharjah.

The ‘Al Mahatta’ was distinguished from the region’s other airports by a fortified guesthouse for overnight stops and sleepover making it also the first hotel in the country. The airport’s amenities also include a meteorological centre, telegraph and postal services, control tower, fuel tanks, airport defence force and an aircraft landing field that developed into a runway. In the 1960s, the runway was converted into an asphalt street, now known as King Abdul Aziz Street.

The use of ‘Hanno’ aircraft was a quantum leap in the history of the civil aviation. The aircraft was characterised by its size and capability to fly long distances, a requirement for international flights between the UK, India and Australia through the Arabian Gulf region. That international air route comprised many refuelling stops at key airports such as Croydon in South London, Athens, Cairo, Baghdad, Basra, Sharjah and Karachi, apart from other airports in India and Australia.

The Al Mahatta airport also had the distinction of housing the first cinema in Sharjah which was inaugurated in the 1930s. Documentaries have been collected and maintained by Sharjah Museums Authority, detailing how the cinema industry was established and developed by the British Air Forces between 1949 and 1959. At that time, the cinema hall had been a square-shaped space with a medium-sized screen and seating area, where visitors used to watch silent films, mostly documentaries and comedies.